I find it amazing how fast life passes before our eyes. Everyday, I wake up dreading the length of a day and before I know it, it’s over.
Will this be how my life will pass by?
I rather enjoy each moment and savor it, but all the days can mesh into each other without any discerning qualities.
Meh, at least I have my cat.
My cat doesn’t mind that all her days are exactly the same, she just likes to sleep in the sunlight, to act cute and to eat.
Maybe there is something to learn from a cat, they are perfectly comfortable acting like royalty among us humans lounging, eating and sleeping.
I find it amazing how some people still choose to ignore a persons’ sincereness in their character and preoccupy themselves with what is culturally acceptable.
Don’t try to fit me in a box, don’t you dare tell me how to behave and when I speak, be grateful that I am one of the few who don’t lie in your face just to please society and fit in.
I may be petite, but I’m not dainty. I may be tiny, but my personally is huge and I may be new to this place but I’m old school.
I know, you’re uncomfortable with my Bronx attitude in this little city of Erbil, but then again, it’s really not my problem.
Tattered Remnants of a Star
10,000 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia, a massive star went supernova, collapsing under the weight of its own gravity and blowing its outer layers into space, causing its own explosive demise. Shattered fragments are all that remain of the star—a huge swirls of debris and stellar ejecta called Cassiopeia A. It contains gases of 10 million degrees Celsius, created when the supernova flung out materials that smashed into surrounding dust and gas at speeds of 16 million km/hour. Cas A is actually the strongest radio source in the sky beyond our solar system, and the images above show the remnants in both optical and X-ray wavelengths, capturing the complex, intricate structure of the debris, fascinating in its utter destruction. The false colours indicate chemical compositions: bright green filaments are rich in oxygen, red and purple are sulphur, and blue are hydrogen and nitrogen. The light of Cas A first reached Earth just 340 years ago, so it’s one of the youngest and freshest such remnants we know of in the Milky Way. Studying it will help us understand the evolution of the universe. But it still holds some mysteries—take a closer look at the last image, and note the small turquoise dot right in the centre. Astronomers believe this is a neutron star—an ultra-dense star created during the supernova. Years of observation have shown unexpected rapid cooling of the star, which is thought to be caused by superfluids in its dense core. Superfluids are extremely bizarre but super cool, and you can read more about them from NASA.
The Science of Swearing
Swearing is generally taboo, due to the assumption that it has the power to corrupt and harm. But there is little data that demonstrates a simple word can cause harm—rather, it’s the social constructs around the word that harms people, so instead of dismissing swearing is universally wrong, it’s more useful to ask the question: why do we swear? What does it achieve? It can often be used positively, in jokes, storytelling, stress management, as a substitute for physical aggression, to express anger, joy, surprise, pain—and it’s even believed that swearing could serve an important function in relieving pain. “Swearing is such a common response to pain that there has to be an underlying reason why we do it,” says psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University. Stephens measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in freezing water—and one group was allowed to repeat their favourite swear word, while another group wasn’t. It was found that the swearing students reported less pain and endured an average of 40 seconds longer in the cold water. It’s thought that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved in these physical effects of swearing—while normal language relies on the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives could rely on ancient structures deep in the right hemisphere. One of these structures is the amygdala, which can trigger a fight-or-flight response and help us become less pain-sensitive. Psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University agrees, commenting: “I suspect that swearing taps into a defensive reflex in which an animal that is suddenly injured or confined erupts in a furious struggle, accompanied by an angry vocalization to startle and intimidate an attacker.” So swearing might not only be a cathartic exercise—it may have evolved to save our lives.
The Ecosystem of Earth
Earth is a tiny thriving planet in a vast universe, sandwiched between two worlds gone wrong—Mars, which once had water but is now a dry and freezing desert, and Venus, which was once similar to Earth but is now swirling with boiling, toxic cloud. Spinning on between them is Earth: golden, ripe for life. It’s is not a cold, indifferent place—it’s an ecosystem, a sprawling network of interconnected life, and you are part of it. Humans can’t be separated from nature, because we are connected to every living thing. We were an accident, grittily surviving and branching out in the tree of evolution to become what we are today. We are dominating this ecosystem, and the consequences of our actions ripple out to affect every other living being on the planet—sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way, but we don’t know how to balance. We search for life on other planets when we don’t even know how to look after our own. This is the only Earth we have, and perhaps it has created its own destruction. Perhaps our ever-growing desire for technological advancement will bring about our own demise, our own extinction, in order to save the planet from ourselves—a Shakespearean tragedy on an immense scale. We are children of Earth, and we are killing it.
When you were little, I bet you spent time enjoying the pleasure of primitive art.
When I ask my students to write about their happiest moment, many write about an early artistic experience they had as a kid: Learning to play piano for the first time and playing four hands with a friend, or performing a ridiculous skit with friends looking like idiots — things like that. Or the moment you developed the first film you shot with an old camera.
…In that moment, art makes you happy.
—From Korean novelist Young-ha Kim’s TEDxSeoul talk, “Be an artist, right now!”: the first talk in Korean to be featured on TED.com.
A Different Perspective of Photography
A Lytro camera looks like a kaleidoscope or perhaps a modern spyglass, but in reality it’s something much cooler than that: a light-field camera. Normal digital cameras align a lens in front of an image sensor, capturing the colour and intensity of the light, but the Lytro camera adds an extra step. It has an array of micro-lenses between the primary lens and the image sensor, which fractures the light that passes through and maps the thousands of directions the photons are going. This information is recorded and saved into an unusual image file called an .LFP (light-field picture). While ordinary digital images are composed of pixel data like colour and sharpness, the pixel data of a light-field picture adds in directional information. Amazingly, this allows the photographer to refocus an image after it’s taken. Using either the camera’s internal processor or an app, you can shift any part of the image into focus, dramatically altering the image’s perspective and meaning—it’s almost like creating living pictures.
(Image Credit: Mashable)
Paved roads are nice to look at, but they’re easily damaged and costly to repair. UV rays, weather, oxidation and constant traffic wear down paved surfaces, loosening rocks and creating dangerous potholes.
But are there better alternatives for paving roads than traditional asphalt? At TEDxDelft, civil engineer Erik Schlangen says yes. Here he demonstrates a new type of porous asphalt with an astonishing feature: When cracked, it can be “healed” by induction heating.
This “self-healing” asphalt is infused with tiny strands of steel wool (yes, that steel wool — the same used to scrub dishes), which clings to the binding of the asphalt, called bitumen. When Schlangen’s asphalt develops a crack, caretakers can use heat to melt the steel mixed in the bitumen, which then liquifies and flows into the road’s cracks, “healing” itself.
Onstage, Erik demonstrates this process by dropping a piece of his asphalt into liquid nitrogen, breaking it, and then heating it in a microwave to “heal it,” a process from which the asphalt reemerges fully formed. Out on the roadways, he and his team from the Delft University of Technology are working on a real piece of highway donated by the Dutch government, 400 meters of the A58, where they’ve discovered that this process really works, as Erik says in his talk:
“If we go on the road every four years with our healing machine — this is the big version we have made to go on the real road — if we go on the road every four years, we can double the surface life of this road, which of course saves a lot of money.”
Erik is also working with microbiologist Henk Jonkers to create a “self-healing” building concrete (pictured above, on bottom), which is infused with bacterial spores and a compound that feeds these spores — calcium lactate. “When the biomaterial is exposed to water (one of the many things known to contribute to the degradation of concrete),” says io9, “the bacteria set to work converting calcium lactate into calcite, which fills in surrounding cracks.”
We can’t wait to see what comes of these exciting new building materials, and until then, we’re crossing our fingers for self-healing smartphone screens.
(Bio-concrete photo via io9)
Erbil needs to look into this.
Creativity in Science
“They should have sent a poet,” whispers Ellie in the 1997 film Contact. She is a radio astronomer, and when she sets eyes on an alien galaxy for the first time, she has no words for its beauty. Despite being fiction, I think this interestingly highlights the need for pursuits in arts and sciences to be cross-disciplinary. Many students lose interest in science at an early age because it’s largely “taught to the test”, and so there is a decreased focus on creativity and imagination. Even practical experiments allow little room for creativity, as students are all expected to get the same results—and although this is important for teaching the scientific method, careers in science are not entirely like this: they require creativity and innovation. The infographic above shows the results of Creativity and Education: Why it Matters, a survey by research firm Edelman Berland (note: it is not specifically science-related). The research shows that that 85% of participants think creativity is crucial for problem solving in their career, yet 32% don’t feel comfortable thinking creatively. Yet, creativity is what keeps science moving forwards, because it fosters new connections and therefore gives rise to not only practical innovation, but also the creation of new knowledge. Scientists and engineers frequently encounter problems where they must use abstract, creative thinking, and they should be equipped to do this. From an early age, students should be encouraged to let their imaginations run wild, and also to use scientific reasoning to assess and test their ideas—and this approach of being open to multiple disciplines would be beneficial not only to science, but also foster innovation in other disciplines too. In Einstein’s words: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”